Liberation Narratives: Nicole Mitchell and Her Black Earth Ensemble Brings Haki Madhubuti and His Poetry Back Again on CD

The Liberation Narratives CD is Nicole Mitchell’s gift to her mentor and friend, poet, publisher, and educator Haki R. Madhubuti and his Third World Press. Ten poems by Madhubuti, read by the author, is set to music by composer and flautist Nicole Mitchell and her Black Earth Ensemble.

Originally commissioned by the Jazz Institute of Chicago, as an artist-in-residence at the University of Chicago’s Logan Center for the Arts 2016 to 2017 Nicole Mitchell worked on developing and performing this suite of music for Madhubuti’s poetry. Recorded live at the Logan Center, the CD Nicole Mitchell and Haki Madhubuti: Liberation Narratives was released by Third World Press/black earth music in 2017 as part of TWP’s celebration of its first 50 years of publishing.

Cultural Daughter. In Haki R. Madhubuti’s new collection of poetry, Taught by Women: Poems As Resistance Language (see Index), he pays tribute to Nicole Mitchell in the poem Cultural Daughter. And in a sense, this CD is a collaboration twenty-seven years in the making.

When Nicole Mitchell first moved to Chicago in 1990, she looked up Third World Press in the phone book: “I went down to this little storefront off 75th and Cottage Grove. Here is was – a bookstore, a publishing company and a school all squeezed up in the same building. The vibe was exiting and I … asked to meet the owner, Haki Madhubuti. I told him I wanted to work there because I believed in what he was doing – he was making a real difference in the community.”

Madhubuti remembers: “I first met Nicole Mitchell in 1990 when she and a friend walked into our bookstore – the African American Book Center looking for work. This was a hot summer Saturday morning, and she and her friend were underdressed in serious short shorts and over-sized naturals that claimed without doubt and hesitation that “We are Black and ready.” Nicole had just moved from Oberlin and at twenty-two was in the fire of her creative sorcery.” (From the liner notes).

Mitchell started typing manuscripts and eventually did graphic design and book layouts. She stayed with Third World Press for thirteen years: “This time was core to my development.”

Nicole Mitchell and the Black Earth Ensemble. Currently a professor of music at the University of Virginia, Nicole Mitchell (1967-) has released more than twenty-five albums of music since her debut in 2001 with Vision Quest, mostly with her Black Earth Ensemble, a name she has used for various groups of musicians she has performed and recorded with, according to Wikipedia.

She is a former chairwoman of AACM, Chicago’s Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, named several times by Down Beat as a Rising Star and the year’s top jazz flautist.

As for Haki R. Madhubuti, this is the first time he has recorded his poems with music since the mid-1970s albums Rise Vision Coming and Medasi/Thank You, his still strong and expressive voice blending in seamlessly with Nicole Mitchell and her Black Earth Ensemble’s captivating music.

UFI // 02 January 2023 

Appendix: a note on the poems and the personnel on the Liberation Narratives CD: 

Poems: The 10 poems recorded here are taken from Haki R. Madhubuti’s Liberation Narratives: New and Collected Poems 1966-2009 (Third World Press, 2009), covering over 40 years of poetry.

The CD track list, with the page added on which you will find the poem in question, runs like this:

01 Often Hard to Believe, page 378 // 02 Move Into Our Own, p. 131 (In the book titled: Move Un-noticed to be Noticed: A Nationhood Poem) // 03 Gwendolyn Brooks, p. 62 // 04 Too Many of Our Young, p. 344 // 05 Black Man Unfinished, p. 96 // 06 Rise Vision, p. 155 // 07 Peace Starts Inside of You, p. 400 // 08 We Walk the Way of the New World, p. 129 // 09 Woman Black, p. 214 // Poetry, p. 201 //.

Personel: (all music written by Mitchell): Haki R. Madhubuti – spoken word // Ugochi – vocals // Pharez Whitted – trumpet // Nicole Mitchell – flute // Renee Baker – violin // Zara Zaharieva – violin // Tomeka Reid – cello // Miguel de la Cerna – piano // Harrison Bankhead – bass // Jovia Armstrong – percussion // Tomas Fujiwara – drumset //.